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Partner for nutrient stewardship

Photos by Steve Woit Photography Agtegra agronomist Payton Eagle and South Dakota farmer Jeff Lakner
MANAGING PARTNERS: With a focus on sustainability, a partnership between Agtegra agronomist Payton Eagle and South Dakota farmer Jeff Lakner led to the Lakners’ farm being awarded as a 4R Ambassador from The Fertilizer Institute.
A partnership between farmer Jeff Lakner and agronomist Payton Eagle increases profits and sustainability.

For fifth-generation South Dakota farmer Jeff Lakner and his family, utilizing technology is a key piece in managing their diversified crop and cattle operation. Another key piece to their management puzzle? A close partnership with their Agtegra crop adviser, Payton Eagle.

“We made the decision about 12 years ago to really start looking into precision ag techniques,” Lakner says. “We’ve been no-till for quite some time. We then decided we needed to get a whole lot better at being farmers.” 

Before their partnership with Eagle and Agtegra, they worked with a local co-op to begin managing their operation more efficiently.

Partner for management strategy

“I’m a partner in the background with Jeff and Drew,” Eagle says of her work with Jeff and his son Drew on their farm in Wessington. “A lot of the fertility management decisions are made between us three, so we can manage fertilizer but also seed.”

Agtegra agronomist Payton Eagle and South Dakota farmer Jeff Lakner looking at zones” determined by the MZB Field View softwareWHAT ZONE NEEDS: Lakner and Eagle manage land based on “zones” determined by the MZB Field View software, which allows Lakner to only apply what the soil needs, saving inputs and raising profits while increasing farm sustainability.

The trio uses MZB Field Reveal to address management variabilities across the Lakners’ farm, and uses the data collected to maximize input investments.

“Agtegra got us started with MZB, the proprietary soil mapping software we use,” Lakner says. “That really opened a lot of doors for us, where we thought we knew our soils, and we didn’t. We started looking into managing those zones a lot better, and then we started implementing a lot more precision planning techniques.”

MZB Field Reveal is a zone management software, which works to create a best-fit scenario for crop production for farmers. Eagle says this software is used heavily for management decisions on the Lakners’ farm.

“It maps out soil types and elevations, so we can tailor everything per acre, even within the management zones,” she says. “We can get together and look at the management zones, and tweak what we need to between that scientific data and also a boots-on-the-ground aspect.”

Lakner says this lets them be sustainable with their inputs. “If I’m standing on the end of a field, and I look 60 yards into that field, I want to farm that area differently, and now we have so many more tools to do that.”

Lakner and Eagle also partner to utilize the livestock component of the farm to its full capacity. “We’ve had livestock on this place forever,” Lakner says. “Even having had cattle here all these years, it’s an eye-opener when you go back and have all this data generated from soil mapping or from satellite imagery. You can go back and identify all those marginal acres and say, ‘They’re being cropped, and they should really be grazed for cover crops’ and we can now utilize that information.”

They run the cattle as a cow-calf operation, so they have the ability to relocate cattle to different sections as the data indicates.

“The soils in South Dakota vary across the entire state. As far as you can throw a rock, there’s probably three different soil types there,” Eagle says. “One way the Lakners really do a great job with managing those low profitable zones is putting cover crop there. They do a great job first diversifying the operations and then have something they can take off and utilize on the livestock side. They’re not putting money into it to just watch it; they do something they can profit from and utilize.”

Lakner says that the data collected helps them to manage for what the land needs. “We can know what it needs to fit our operation,” he says. “We just have to work a little harder to make sure it’s an integrated approach to tie everything together with that.”

Their dedicated partnership to best practices has led to cost savings across the farm. “We’re seeing a cost savings on corn of $25 to $40 an acre, accompanied with a yield increase of 10 to 15 bushels an acre,” Lakner says. Their fertilizer costs have saved them $15 to $30 an acre.

2022 4R advocates

The partnership between the Lakners and Eagle led to their honor as 4R Advocates by The Fertilizer Institute. The advocate program identifies growers who work with agriculture retailers to utilize the 4R’s in nutrient stewardship — right source, right rate, right time, right place.

“Nobody was more surprised than me, when Payton contacted us and said they were putting in an application. We were very honored when they gave us the award,” Lakner says.

Since 2012, the 4R Advocates Program has recognized 80 ag producers and retailers across 25 states. Lakner’s farm is the only one in the Dakotas to be recognized by this program.

“To me as a producer, sustainability is a risk management issue,” Lakner says. “I always try to link a risk management mindset to what we’re doing to be sustainable. If we’re not making judicious decisions on inputs and synthetic chemicals and fertilizer, then our risks go up risk to the environment and the risk to our business, too.”

For Eagle, sustainability influences her decisions for her customers. “It’s always about protecting ourselves and protecting what we care about. For me, sustainability is where practices meet profitability, and people might look at me and say, ‘Oh, you’re all about profitability,’ and I’m not because using best practices leads to profits.”

Their best management practices? Using satellite mapping to identify yield potential and a nutrient management plan, GPS precision nutrient application, GPS precision planting, in-season plant tissue testing, and variable-rate nutrient application across the farm.

To find out more about the 4R Advocate Program and The Fertilizer Institute, check out the nutrientstewardship.org.

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